This feature focuses on the teams in the Ohio Valley Conference each week. Interviews are conducted during the OVC teleconference.
Even though Eastern Illinois football coach Kim Dameron is looking for improvement out of many areas of his team, one area he is happy with is the punt return unit, which provided one of the two scores for the Panthers on Saturday.
Redshirt freshman Julian Hess came around the edge and blocked an Illinois State punt. Mack Weaver scoped the ball up and went 15 yards for the touchdown.
“It was a rugby punt and (the punter) was running away from Julian and he got it and popped it up and Mack scored,” Dameron said. “That unit has been productive for us. I am excited about that. Julian is a redshirt freshman coming in and making a play. That play was big for us.”
It was the third blocked kick of the season for the EIU special team unit. The Panthers blocked two field goals against Northern Illinois two weeks ago.
No. 20 Tennessee State (3-0)
TSU kicker Lane Clark struggled in the first game of the season against Georgia State, but it was because he only kicked for two days prior to that game since he dealt with a quad injury during camp.
Clark is back to form now after hitting a 49-yard attempt in TSU’s 24-13 win over Florida A&M on Saturday. He was 3-of-3 on extra points and went over the 200-career point mark.
Clark was named the OVC co-specialist of the week.
“He gives us a good opportunity to score,” TSU coach Rod Reed said. “Seeing him kick over the past two weeks, he’s back to his old self.”
Treon Harris transferred from Florida and almost immediately became TSU’s new quarterback. Harris had his best game on Saturday as he was 14-of-18 passing for 211 yards and two touchdowns.
Harris was named the OVC newcomer of the week.
“He’s still growing and only been in the offense for a semester, so he’s still learning a few things,” Reed said. “He stood tall in the pocket and found receivers down the field and went through his progressions.”
No. 24 UT Martin (2-1)
For the first time since 2013, UT Martin beat a ranked opponent when the Skyhawks took down No. 15-ranked Chattanooga 21-7 on Saturday. The win moved the Skyhawks into the FCS Stats poll at No. 24.
Quarterback Troy Cook was a big reason for the win as he had only five incompletions (16-of-21) and threw all three touchdowns. He finished with 183 yards through the air. Cook is 33rd in the nation in passing efficiency (137.1).
Cook was named the OVC co-offensive player of the week.
“Troy did a really good job, a really good job from the standpoint from managing the game,” UT Martin coach Jason Simpson said. “There were times he could’ve changed a run to a pass at the line with the defense playing well and dominating, but he understands not to take the risk. I’m very proud of how he managed it. It wasn’t a big statistics game for him, but he was efficient and made the plays when we needed them.”
Defensive lineman Anthony Brown only had three tackles, but made them count. He had two sacks and his sack in the third quarter forced a fumble, which led to a UT Martin touchdown.
Brown was named the OVC defensive player of the week.
“Our defensive line played really well and really got after the quarterback,” Simpson said. “I’m happy with Anthony and his efforts and I hope to see more of that from him this season.”
No. 5 Jacksonville State (1-1)
After two games, the Gamecocks are last in the OVC in passing offense with only 127.5 yards per game. However, the Gamecocks faced a ranked Chattanooga squad in the first game of the season and then Georgia Tech in the second game.
JSU is working in a new quarterback, Bryant Horn, this season and some new wide receivers. JSU coach John Grass is happy with the unit so far.
“I thought we played well against Chattanooga in the opener and then had Georgia Tech and outside of the turnovers, I thought we played well,” Grass said. “ We had long, sustained drives. Three turnovers nullified that and you can’t turn the ball over in your own 20. There’s mistakes to correct, but I like where we are offensively.”
Austin Peay (1-2)
The losing streak is over for Austin Peay. After losing 29 straight games, the Governors exorcised their demons in impressive fashion with a 69-13 win over Morehead State on Saturday. It was the longest losing streak in NCAA Division I and now that torch is passed to Delaware State (15 straight losses).
Austin Peay's Will Healy is in his second year and for some on his coaching staff, the losing streak was 13 games for them. Some redshirt seniors had never won a game at Austin Peay until Saturday.
Once the game was over, the Austin Peay tore down the goalposts.
“This group of coaches, I am always concerned about their quality of life. When you are 0-13, you worry about their experience here. We had fifth year seniors that had never won a college football game,” Healy said. “We deserved to win and for the first time in 14 weeks, I can say that. I got to hug those seniors that worked so hard. The kids we have here, they deserved the right to feel like they were on the top of the world.”
Quarterback JaVaughn Craig started as a freshman and kept the job this season. On Saturday, he scored five times, four times on the ground. He passed for 118 yards and Healy said the young quarterback is a big reason for the team’s win because of his leadership.
Craig was named the OVC co-offensive player of the week.
“He’s a tremendous leader and always felt good about what he could do in space,” Healy said. “I think he’s throwing better than he has. He’s a special kid and he gets OVC player of the week and then gets baptized on Sunday.”
Murray State (1-2)
An injury led to a change at quarterback for the Racers after a 28-21 loss to Missouri State. Murray State coach Shuler Bentley suffered an injury from a hit against Central Arkansas two weeks ago and it affected him during Saturday’s game against Missouri State. Bentley was 24-of-36 for 133 yards.
So Stewart went with true freshman Corey Newble, who was 8-of-16 for 57 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Newble also rushed for 56 yards on nine carries.
Because of Newble’s performance against Missouri State, Stewart decided to stick with the freshman going into Saturday’s game against Austin Peay.
“The gameplan was to get Corey involved and had a package with him and we saw quickly going into the second quarter that Shuler didn’t have a lot of pop on the ball and we were forced to put Corey in there full time and he did a fantastic job,” Stewart said. “He had the hot arm and gave us a chance and tied the game and gave us a chance to win and it led to the switch. We will keep evaluating.”
Eastern Kentucky (0-2)
Through two games, the Colonels are last in the OVC in rushing offense at 43.5 yards per game. However, the stats are a bit deceiving because EKU opened the season against FBS teams Western Kentucky and Kentucky.
EKU coach Mark Elder said despite the numbers, running back is EKU’s deepest position group.
“We have the skill set to do it. Western Kentucky had a good rush defense the year before and returned a majority of their line. Kentucky has a bunch of guys in the box and it’s very difficult to run against those teams,” Elder said. “We ran the ball okay when we did. We would like to be a balanced offense and we figured we would have to be more pass happy than we wanted. We weren’t going to pound it if it wasn’t given to us the first two weeks. We felt we were given more in the passing game than the running game.”
Southeast Missouri State (0-3)
Punting has been a problem for the Redhawks this season as they rank last in the OVC with only 30 yards per punt. It’s especially concerning for SEMO since they have punted 20 times, the second most in the OVC.
SEMO coach Tom Matukewicz was happier with the punting game this past weekend and needs to see the unit continue to improve.
“We have just had bad, bad punt plays. We have had two at the line that were blocked and we’ve shanked punts that went out of bounds quickly,” Matukewicz said. “You have to take a look at the whole thing and we’ve looked at our players first. Our punts were solid and you can build on that. We can improve and I want to get in the high 30’s or the low 40’s.”
Tennessee Tech (0-3)
Nick Madonia does double duty for the Golden Eagles as both the punter and kicker. In Saturday’s loss to Ball State, Madonia connected on field goals of 37 and 21 yards. He punted four times and averaged 46 yards per punt with a long of 58 yards. He downed two punts inside the Ball State 20-yard line. Madonia ranks eighth nationally in punting at 44.7 yards per punt.
Madonia was named the OVC co-specialist of the week.
“He had a great day and one of the snaps, the holder made a great catch and Nick got it through,” Tech coach Marcus Satterfield said. “He’s very consistent and he picked up where he left off from last year. He got back into a rhythm and had some good punts.”